An Interview with Bear Grylls About Survival Knives

At the time of this interview, Bear Grylls partnered with Gerber to produce a line of survival knives. If you'd like to read the entire article, click the image and download the full issue. (BLADE image)

At the time of this interview in 2011, Bear Grylls partnered with Gerber to produce a line of survival knives. (BLADE image)

And now for something a little different.

I started my full-time career in the publishing industry as a crime/government reporter wayyy back in 2007 for a newspaper called the STAR. That led to a position with BLADE magazine as a print editor the following year.

I didn’t know a ton about knives at the time, but I grew into the role soon enough. I still work with BLADE and its parent company, F+W, although my days in the editorial realm are few and far between. I suppose that’s why I get nostalgic for things like an interview with Bear Grylls I did for the July 2011 issue of BLADE.

I never met Grylls in person, but we did work out this interview about survival knives via e-mail. At the time, he was launching a line of Gerber survival knives that went on to become a staple at sporting goods stores across the U.S. I thought it’d be fun to post it here.

BLADE: In the first season of Man vs. Wild, you used a variety of knives, including those by Buck, Wenger and others. For season two, you used only Gerbers. For seasons three and four, you went with an S4 Survival series knife by Rob Bayley. You have now returned to Gerber. Why?

GRYLLS: In the early days I just wanted to try as many different blades as I could; trial and error in the field is a good way to learn very fast what works and what doesn’t! I definitely made a few mistakes—part workman, part tool—but I now feel that I have come full circle and combined all that I have learned from the Special Forces and the world of survival with a great manufacturer who was prepared to listen. I know we have a great team and I just really hope that people enjoy the range [of knives].

When you sat down with Gerber to design the new knives, what features did you absolutely have to have? What were you not seeing in knives already on the market?

Robust blades, good grips and additional survival-focused, useful functions—like a sharpener, fire steel, survival instructions or whistle—all of which can save your life.

Most people who watch Man vs. Wild will never be in a life-or-death situation in the outdoors. They are more likely to encounter obstacles in the urban or suburban “jungles.” What knife would you recommend for them?

Gerber’s Folding Sheath Knife and Ultimate Multi-tool are real favorites of mine as they are easy and stylish to carry, but are tough, functional, light and useful for so many everyday things.

One of the criticisms of Man vs. Wild is that the situations presented are too sensational to be believable. How do you respond?

Man vs. Wild is about showing the skills that I have learned over a lifetime and how I could use those to get myself out of some of the worst sort of scrapes the wild can throw at you. That inevitably is going to have exciting moments—some that work out OK, some that don’t—but that is what’s made the show what it is as well, I guess. Good survival tells you to stay put and keep safe, but that would make for a pretty boring show. I want to show you what can be done when you are up against [the wall] and have no choice. I love that!

Your new show, Worst Case Scenario, aims to offer advice for real-world emergencies, such as being trapped in an elevator, a home break-in, an earthquake, etc. Do knives play a large role in this show, too? If so, how, and what types?

More urban-style knives related to everyday tasks, like seat-belt cutters or car-window breakers—but again, most of the time I’m having to improvise these from bits of broken glass or the points of headrests!

This interview originally appeared in the July 2011 edition of BLADE magazine. Click the cover to download the full issue.

This interview originally appeared in the July 2011 edition of BLADE magazine. Click the cover to download the full issue.

You have been on countless expeditions into extreme environments outside of your TV show, including Mount Everest, Antarctica and others. Tell us about a time when having a knife was critical.

How long do you have?

You are the Chief Scout to the Scouting Association. Do you feel anti-knife laws in the United Kingdom are interfering with the education of the scouts?

Knives come with a responsibility for sure [and], when properly mentored and guided, young people respond well to responsibility. A knife is purely a tool to help you make something to either shelter in, catch food or water in, and help get you out of somewhere. It’s important to focus on the job, not just the tool.

Why do you think there is such an interest in survival gear—including knives—when so few actually live the Bear Grylls lifestyle?

We all ask ourselves the question, What if? What if it happened to me? Could I cope? Could I survive? I go by the motto of “know more, carry less.”

Do you prefer fixed or folding blades in the field, and why?

Fixed in the field as I can work it harder, but ideally I would also have a small folding knife for quick, easy tasks.

What is your advice if a knife fails in the field? For example, the tip breaks, the handle cracks, the lock breaks on a folder, etc.

That can be a real game changer in a survival situation, so when you choose a knife, choose it carefully. If a knife fails in the field, though, you have just got to improvise, adapt and then overcome. It’s more about the workman than the tool.

Last question, and it is unrelated to knives. In an episode of Man vs. Wild, you ate a large rhino beetle larvae you had dug out of a dead acacia tree. On top of the fact the smaller ones you ate were not tasty, this large one also exploded blood and puss. It had to be one of the most disgusting things we have ever seen. What was that like?

Another day at the office.


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